More Than Words
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“Myrtle, I don’t have access to a pen right now. Can I call you back later to go through the messages?”
“Oh, of course, dearie. I just wanted to let you know I’ve got everything covered here. Nothing important at all. You just relax and enjoy yourself, and if you decide you want the messages before you return, you call me.”
I hung up my phone and turned it off, then headed back into the room. Jessie was standing in front of a huge portrait of an angel smiling down on a young girl, and she glanced at me quickly and then turned her attention back to the art.
She spent another several minutes looking at that painting, and I pretended to be interested in the statue next to me, resting my hand on its head and feeling one shell-shaped ear beneath my fingertips. The stone was rough and had broken away in a few spots. I wondered idly how one went about carving figures from rock, when the ear suddenly came loose and dropped with a small ping to the glass surface below. I froze.
Jessie, who had turned from the painting and was strolling to one next to it, looked my way just in time to see me grab for the piece of broken ear, bumping the statue and causing it to rock dangerously. I sucked in a breath, steadying it, and Jessie put one hand over her mouth, her eyes going wide with alarm. My breath wheezed out between my teeth as the statue stilled, and I stuck the ear in my pocket, looking over my shoulder to make sure no one had seen what I’d done.
The security guard standing near the front looked at me suspiciously, shifting back and forth on his heels as if considering whether to come over to me with some warning or another.
Before I knew what was happening, Jessie made a beeline for me, grabbing me by the arm and pulling me out the door. “Oh my God,” she muttered. “You broke that statue of the Virgin Mary. Let me see.”
I sheepishly reached into my pocket and pulled out the ear. She stared at it before looking back at me, a choking sound coming from the back of her throat. She pulled at my arm again, dragging me out of the museum’s main entrance and into the bright sunshine. “Don’t you follow directions? The signs all said ‘Do not touch.’ Good God.”
“I’m sure it can be superglued.”
She stared at me, her mouth slightly agape, and then her lip suddenly twitched and she started laughing, grabbing her stomach and bending forward. The whole thing suddenly seemed so ridiculous, and I started laughing, too. Really laughing, for maybe the first time since I was a kid. Maybe since the last time I’d been with Jessie. “We’re going to get arrested or something.”
“I did it. Not you.”
“No, but I’m the reason you’re here. I feel responsible for you.” She dug around in her purse and pulled out an envelope, removing the contents and then holding her hand out. Understanding what she was silently requesting, I fished in my pocket, pulled out the tiny ear, and placed it in her palm. She put it in the envelope, sealed it, took out a pen, and wrote something on the front. Then I watched her walk the short distance to the mail slot, drop it inside, and hurry back to where I waited. “We have to go. Come on.”
I held back a laugh. “Go? We’re miles away from the château.”
“At least it’s a nice day for a stroll.” She paused before glancing away. “I guess we’re going to spend some time together after all.”
The sun warmed my back, the birds chirped in the dense trees all around us, and I shot a look at Callen as we made our way along the dirt road that led back to our hotel, tempted to laugh again. He’d looked both bored and uncomfortable in that museum, and I’d been unable to hold back the wave of tenderness that accompanied my amusement. He’d followed me there despite the fact that he obviously had no interest whatsoever in the exhibit. I couldn’t help feeling flattered and strangely charmed by the sight of Callen Hayes pretending to find enjoyment in church relics described entirely in French. And unwillingly, I’d caught a glimpse of that same boy who’d once followed me through overgrown fields, between trees, and around a train yard, playing the games I came up with and indulging my childhood fantasies. Yes, he was a man now, and I knew his motives were different and probably not very honorable, but I still couldn’t help the warm flush of affection for the boy that might still be part of the man after all. I’d thought he’d become nothing more than a suave womanizer. I’d seen him in action. But there was still sweetness in him and an endearing awkwardness that made my heart skip a beat. Stupid, maybe, but there it was.
“Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to ruin your museum experience.”
I sighed. “It’s okay. I saw enough of the exhibit.” I paused for a moment, glancing at him and remembering the phone call he’d taken out in the vestibule, the one that had been broadcast to the inside room at large. “I like Myrtle, by the way,” I said, my lip twitching.
His eyes widened, and he let out a surprised laugh that ended in a groan. “Shit, you heard all that?”
“Most of it.”
He ran a hand through his hair, the dark strands glinting a deep, rich chocolate in the sun. “She’s my assistant.”
“I got that, dearie.” I gave him a wry smile, and Callen laughed, looking just slightly embarrassed. I hefted my purse on my shoulder, and Callen made a gesture that indicated he’d take it from me, but I shook my head.
We walked in silence for a few minutes, and I soaked in the peaceful quiet of the day, looking ahead to where I could see the tops of the town buildings. I was surprised there was no discomfort between us. Walking with him like this almost felt … normal, common, as if we were easily falling back into the camaraderie we’d once had, despite all my reservations about spending any time with him at all. With no one else around, it felt simple and … good.
“Remember that time we pretended that old train car was a pirate ship, and we sailed the seven seas?”
His words surprised me, but only a little because I’d been thinking of the past, too. Something inside me delighted to know his thoughts had followed a similar path, and a grin spread over my face at the memory. “You called yourself Captain Carver ‘One Eye’ Swales.”
Callen laughed, the sound deep and rich. “Captain One Eye, that swashbuckling swain. Damn, I can’t believe you remember that.”
I smiled softly, looking away. “I remember everything about those years.” I remember everything about you, Callen. You were my prince and my pirate, my savior and my friend.
I stopped suddenly, turning to face him. “Why did you disappear? Where did you go?” I shook my head, resisting the urge to cringe. I’d told myself I wouldn’t ask, and yet it was as if the words had fallen from my lips of their own accord. Callen the man was clearly interested in me, but it was the boy I’d loved, and he’d left me. I needed to know why. Yet … fear raced through me, too. A part of me didn’t want answers because the knowing might wound me even more than the wondering. “No, don’t tell me. It doesn’t matter.” I began walking again, but Callen took my arm gently, stopping my retreat and turning me toward him. I stared at him, into those thickly lashed gray eyes I’d once known so well. Eyes that brought to mind storms and shadows and the early hours of dawn. The eyes that were the same, though almost everything else about him seemed different.
“Doesn’t it matter though, Jessie?” he asked softly, pushing a piece of hair that had come loose from my ponytail behind my ear.
I shivered at the intimate touch, shutting my eyes briefly. A small sigh escaped my lips. “I made up all these fantasies about what happened to you. That you had been abducted by a caravan of gypsies … or were being held for ransom by a band of robbers … only I was too old for those games by then, and I finally had to face facts that you were done with me and had decided I wasn’t even worth saying goodbye to.” That our kiss hadn’t meant anything to you, when it had meant everything to me.